Back to Basics with Food Choices

Back to Basics with Food Choices

We are fortunate to live in a country where healthy food choices are in abundance. At the same time, diet fads change daily and marketing spin has far too great a punch. It’s therefore not surprising that so many of us feel completely confused and overwhelmed by what we should, or shouldn’t, be eating. This is particularly the case as we head into the summer months, when many of us begin to focus on weight loss.

As a naturopath and holistic nutritionist, one of the most common questions I am asked is: what should I eat? When I’m asked this question, I go back to basics.

Become a food detective

Generally speaking, if it is a wholefood that has been grown and prepared as nature intended, without excessive heating, processing or additives, then it will serve your body well. The challenge is when food is being portrayed as whole and natural but has actually been transformed into something quite different. For this reason, I really encourage you to become a food detective and read all food labels carefully:

  • If it has more than 5-6 ingredients on the label, includes numbers, flavourings, or buzz words like “lite”, “fat free” , then it’s probably not all that good for you.
  • Similarly, be wary of terms such as “natural”, “sugar-free” and “gluten free”. Just because it sounds healthy, it may still contain high quantities of sugar or sugar alternatives.
  • Heavily heated oils (deep fried) and hydrogenated fats (widely used in sweets, frozen meals, fried foods and many dairy products) will have had a change in structure, which means they are no longer in their natural form.

Manage your portion sizes

Another question I’m often asked is which protein, fats and carbohydrates should I eat, and how much. The answer will depend on the individual and their circumstances, how well they tolerate different food groups, and how active they are. For the average person, however, the following generally applies at each meal. By following these simple guidelines, most people are amazed by how good they look and feel once they start getting this balance right:

  • Protein the size of your palm– with red meat no more than twice weekly, 2-3 servings of fish per week, and plenty of plant-based proteins too.
  • A tablespoon of healthy fat such as olive oil, coconut or avocado.
  • A cup of good quality carbohydrate such as kumara, pumpkin or brown rice.
  • 2-3 servings of extra vegetables.
  • And stop eating once you feel feel 80% full…it can take up to 20 minutes for your brain to actually register that you are full.

Therapeutic or restrictive diets such as FODMAPS, high fat, or low carbohydrate diets are best practised under the guidance of a qualified health practitioner, and be followed for a limited period to achieve the best results. Our bodies are not designed to go for long periods without certain macronutrients, and over time this can cause health problems in itself.

Anticipate and manage the dreaded cravings

One of the biggest hindrances to following a healthy diet can be food cravings. We can have the best intentions, but somehow that bag of chips, packet of biscuits, or bar of chocolate manages to sneak its way in.

Food cravings can be incredibly debilitating when it comes to the food choices we make, so it is really essential to address the cause of these if you want to overcome them. One of the most common reasons for cravings can be that you are not getting enough good quality protein and fat in your meals, particularly at breakfast.

There are lots of ways to help beat the cravings, including:

1) Breakfast like royalty! Start your day with a good hearty breakfast, rich in healthy proteins and fats, and this will set you up for the rest of your day. Eggs with steamed greens, chia pudding, porridge or muesli with plenty of nuts and seeds mixed in.

2) Include protein or healthy fats in each meal and include these macronutrients in your snacks too. If you get the balance right, you should find you don’t need the afternoon coffee and muffin after all.

3) Don’t graze through the day. Have a quality breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then if you need to, a small good quality snack in between, such as some mixed nuts and seeds, or veggie sticks with hummus.

4) Use cinnamon and ginger to sweeten and flavour your food. These spices are not only delicious, but they also help to regulate your blood sugar and combat your sweet tooth!

5) There can often be an emotional element to people’s food cravings or eating habits. This may stem from ongoing stress, or it may well be more deep rooted than this. If this resonates with you, then I encourage you to consider seeing a qualified practitioner .


Andrea Frires is a qualified naturopath, nutritionist and medical herbalist from The Holistic Medical Centre, 48 Ponsonby Road. To make an appointment for a consultation with Andrea, Nicola or any of the holistic GP’s call T: 09 370 0650 or visit for more information.